The Troubling Trendiness Of Poverty Appropriation

The Establishment
The Establishment
Published in
8 min readNov 23, 2015

--

By July Westhale

It’s become trendy for those with money to appropriate the poverty lifestyle — and it troubles me for one simple reason. Choice.

II grew up in the far-flung wiles of Blythe, California. Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

Blythe has a population of just over 19,000, and at the time I lived there in the late ’80s and ’90s, it was one of Riverside County’s poorest towns. The primary crop was cotton, the average income was $16,000 per year (for families with more than three members), and the composition was 83% non-white — of those documented. The main profession was migrant work: day labor, cotton picking, crop dusting.

My family lived in Palo Verde Mobile Home Park, on the east side of town. The Colorado River and the border of Arizona were a stone’s throw away. Our corrugated home was surrounded by irrigation canals, where my uncles often fished and caught dinner, and where one uncle, years later, was found bloated and floating, death unknown.

It wasn’t what anyone would call a glamorous experience.

This background, this essential part of who I am, makes it particularly difficult to stomach the latest trend in “simple” living — people moving into tiny homes and trailers. How many folks, I wonder, who have engaged in the Tiny House Movement have ever actually lived in a tiny, mobile place? Because what those who can afford homes call “living light,” poor folks call “gratitude for what we’ve got.”

And it’s not just the Tiny House Movement that incites my discontent. From dumpster diving to trailer-themed bars to haute cuisine in the form of poor-household staples, it’s become trendy for those with money to appropriate the poverty lifestyle — and it troubles me for one simple reason. Choice.

The Tiny House Movement began in the ’90s, but has only been rising in popularity since the recession. And to be fair, it’s rooted in a very real problem: more and more people being displaced as a result of soaring housing costs, especially in tech-boom areas like the Bay Area.

--

--

The Establishment
The Establishment

The conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice. Media funded & run by women; new content daily.